Float Hopes

By Kay Hollyday Filar

Like many couples, my husband John and I met in college. We both had arrived at Westminster, a small liberal arts college in northwestern Pennsylvania, ready to “play the field” – John because he had had a steady girlfriend through much of high school; and me, because I hadn’t dated much at all. John wasn’t interested in “getting tied down,” and I knew I didn’t want or need a “knight in shining armor.”

Our paths crossed when we were elected president of our respective freshman dorms. We gathered our dorm councils together in mid-October to discuss joint activities we might offer throughout the year. At the top of the list was building the freshman float, an expected tradition for the upcoming Homecoming festivities.

After much discussion, the group agreed on an idea to go along with that year’s Broadway Shows theme: “Give them Hell-O’ Dolly!” Not exactly a memorable slogan – and I secretly wondered if it might be frowned upon by our church-related school’s administration. But it was, after all, wild and crazy 1970 – so, we went with it.

One member of the group knew a classmate who had access to a flat-bed wagon and tractor to pull it. Another assured us he could get items we needed through his connection with the Theater Department. On the wagon we would secure a store mannequin dressed in a long Dolly-style dress, wide-brimmed hat and elbow-length gloves; then decorate every remaining inch with tissue paper flowers and large signs.

What I did find memorable that day was John, the cute president of Russell Hall. I returned to my Shaw Hall room, immediately looked up his picture in our freshman “Baby Book,” and hoped to run into him again as we worked on the float.

In typical freshman fashion, the group only began the float the Monday before Saturday’s Homecoming. John and I spent almost every evening together making flowers to cover the float and homemade popcorn and Tang to keep the flower-makers going. That week’s Wonderful Wednesday (so called because no classes were scheduled), I walked out of Russell dining hall to find John sitting in the lounge behind a newspaper. I casually stopped to say hello and asked what he was reading. He replied that he was catching up on high school sports from his hometown paper. That opening to sports, something we both shared an avid interest in, helped us talk easily for almost an hour.

Also typical of Westminster that fall was the rain that fell throughout the week and into Homecoming weekend, postponing the parade until the following Tuesday evening. As floats were moving into place from the amphitheater that night, our Dolly mannequin, apparently weakened by the excessively wet weather, just toppled over and fell to the ground! The wagon guys panicked for a few minutes, then promptly made a beeline to Russell dining hall.

They caused quite a commotion as they moved along the dinner queue desperately seeking someone who was able to fit into the tightly-bodiced, now rather damp, dress and become a real-life Dolly. I happened to be near the front of the line, the right size, and suddenly realized there would be no freshman float unless I agreed to do it. Within minutes, I was being hustled down the slippery hill – with a guy holding each arm, and a third one pushing me and my bustle along from behind – and hoisted aboard the wagon!

As the parade wound through downtown in a light drizzle, I did my best to smile and wave to the crowd, attempting to hide the discouragement and worry I was feeling inside. After so many hours of work, the handmade flowers were a soggy mess; the signs intended for Saturday’s football game were smudged and tattered to the point of being unreadable; and the lacy yellow dress and hat, I feared, were completely ruined.

But those feelings completely vanished as the float returned to campus. There was John waiting with a huge smile and an outstretched hand. He gently lifted me down, wrapped me in his warm jacket and told me it was the best float he’d ever seen.

As we walked together back to Russell, he asked me out for Thursday, opening night of Camelot at the rural town’s only movie theater. He explained apologetically that he had made plans a couple weeks before to go home for the upcoming weekend, so he couldn’t invite me for Friday night. I responded uncharacteristically, because we both had early classes Friday morning, that Thursday was fine – as long as he didn’t mind that I would be coming directly from volleyball practice.

Thursday came, and I could hardly contain my excitement about our first date. Not only did I think John was nice, funny and good-looking; but I also loved the King Arthur tales on which Camelot was based. Of course, practice ran late that evening. John was waiting patiently in the lounge as I came flying through with my sweaty knee pads down around my ankles. I changed clothes in a flash, splashed on some Charlie body spray, and we ran laughing the entire way to the movie three blocks away.

Later that night, after a fabulous first date, I began having second thoughts about playing the field. I found myself wondering if, in some ways, a knight wasn’t so bad after all. Franco Nero’s Lancelot certainly had nothing on John Filar’s sky-blue eyes, his strength and kindness, and his charming and chivalrous manner!

Happily and gratefully, this November fifth, when we celebrate our 47th first-date anniversary by singing every song as we watch Camelot once again, I will feel exactly the same way.

About this writer

  • Kay Hollyday Filar

    Kay Hollyday Filar

    Kay Hollyday Filar retired after 22 years as department assistant in chemistry and art for Davidson College, and now works part-time as a church parish administrator. Since her move to Pawleys Island, she is loving life near the beach, spending more time reading, writing, and deepening family, friend and spiritual relationships.

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One Response to “Float Hopes”

  1. Linda O'Connell says:

    Kay, your story filled with young love, romance and reality, made for a great read. Loved it!

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